Gendarmerie Policing Research Paper

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Gendarmerie is a form of policing that is primarily military in its structure, organization, and chain of command. The form and the name originated in France, but during the nineteenth century, the institution spread across Europe, the European world, and its empires. Generally speaking these institutions functioned alongside other police bodies that were more civilian in appearance and which answered to local government or to ministers whose portfolio was internal domestic or judicial affairs; in contrast the Gendarmeries usually were answerable to a minister of war/defense.


The contemporary French Gendarmerie nationale likes to trace its origins back to the Middle Ages, and the knights commissioned to protect the king’s territories while he was absent on crusade. A more plausible beginning is the Edict of Paris (1539) by which Franc¸ois I extended the competence of the provosts of the marshals of the French Army (les pre´voˆts des mare´chaux) and of their companies (mare´ chausse´es) to include anyone guilty of highway robbery within France. By the end of the reign of Louis XIV in 1714, the companies’ jurisdiction had been extended to most serious offenses from burglary to murder, from rape to arson, and from popular disorder to coining. But, in keeping with the general complexities of the old regime, there was little uniformity in structure and the ranks. Moreover, many men had purchased their ranks for the various opportunities that such a position offered rather than through any desire to enforce the king’s law (see, in general, Luc 2005).

The death of Louis XIV and the end of his incessant wars left a weak treasury and fears that a flood of mendicants and vagabonds would engulf France; the lack of money limited what could be done about these fears. However, in 1720 Claude Le Blanc, the minister of war, initiated a series of reforms designed to improve the mare´chausse´es and thus the internal security of provincial France. Henceforth, the companies were to have a uniform hierarchy and structure, and they were to be financed by the state. The jurisdiction of each individual company was to be tied to a ge´ne´ralite´, the most meaningful unit of provincial administration; the men, recruited from former soldiers with good records, were to be stationed in bodies of generally four to six men in small barracks that were positioned on the main roads. This was essentially the structure that remained in operation until the French Revolution though there were minor amendments, such as the introduction of a system of patrolling in pairs carrying a Journal de Service that was to be signed by a notable such as the mayor or the cure´ in each community that the patrol visited; the Journal was inspected monthly by senior officers. In addition there was a gradual increase in the size of the force from around 3,000 men following Le Blanc’s reforms to some 4,000 on the eve of the Revolution.

As with most police institutions, the mare´ chausse´e had its critics and its supporters. There were those who protested that patrols were never to be found when they were required and that the men could be high handed, brutal, and corrupt or else too old, too infirm, or drunkards incapable of carrying out their duties. Local administrators disliked the fact that the men were not responsible locally but to the minister of war. The fact that the small brigades were required to supervise ballots for the militia, to check the passports of travelers, and to enforce order at local fairs and village festivals could provoke hostility among local communities. But there is also evidence that the men were accepted, well integrated, and often married into the community that they served. General inspections revealed a few men who were too old or infirm to carry out their tasks and that there was a sprinkling of total incompetents and drunks in the ranks. The guarantee of a pension in 1778 went some way towards removing the aged and physically unfit, and it seems fair to conclude that the institution improved as the eighteenth century wore on. Moreover, the justice provided by the mare´chausse´e through the pre´ voˆtal courts was generally quicker, and at least where beggars and the severity of punishments were concerned, it was arguably more balanced and moderate. Comments, both critical and favorable, were to be found in the cahiers de dole´ances that were drawn up at the beginning of the Revolution. There was some disquiet about pre´voˆtal justice, but many of the cahiers argued for an expansion of the force to improve security (Emsley 1999, pp. 33–5).

The Revolution And Reorganization

A proposal for reform of the mare´chausse´e was on the table at the beginning of 1789, but it was rapidly overtaken by events. Over the next 2 years, there were debates about whether a police institution should be military; one of the principal opponents of a military police was Maximilien Robespierre. There were criticisms of the pre´ voˆtal courts, notably by the Comte de Mirabeau, and these were abolished in September 1790. The following February a law was passed reorganizing the force under the new name of the Gendarmerie nationale. This suggested a link with the past: the Gendarmerie had been an elite cavalry regiment in the royal household under the old regime and dated back to the fifteenth century. But the adjective “national” stressed its link to the nation and the new legal structure with its promise of equality before the law and the rights of men and citizens. The newly named force remained a military organization; its deployment in small barracks along the main roads was maintained together with its system of patrolling. But while the force was both military and national, appointments were devolved to the new provincial administrations – the de´partements. Moreover, the continuing power struggles of the Revolution and the demands of both civil and international war provided a decade of institutional disruption for the Gendarmerie in addition to major problems of law and order maintenance.

In the early years of the Revolution, and following the requests from the cahiers for a bigger and better police institution, the Gendarmerie was increased to 7,250 men; in April 1792 it was increased again to 8,700. But these were paper figures. Many de´partements failed to recruit to their quotas, and as the war required more and more soldiers to defend the frontiers, the state itself began to deplete the brigades by taking over half of the men back into the army. The reduction in numbers took no account of the country’s internal difficulties. In addition to the policing tasks that had been undertaken by the old mare´chausse´e, the skeleton brigades of the Gendarmerie had to deal with counterrevolutionary activities, especially the west, with White terror gangs in the south, and also with bandit gangs swollen by deserters and, as successive governments made moves towards a comprehensive policy of conscription, by draftdodgers. In addition, as with every institution in Revolutionary France, periodically men were purged as politically suspect. And, while gendarmes were supposed to be functionaries of the state and the nation, a gendarme serving in his region of origin or in his wife’s native region faced problems of where his loyalty should lie. The gendarmes’ military backgrounds probably ensured that they were less susceptible to such pressures than other police officers, but they were certainly not immune. Moreover, given the variety of languages and patois spoken in France at least until the end of the nineteenth century, it was always useful for a small Gendarmerie brigade (as had happened with the old mare´ chausse´e) to have one or two local men, well versed in the local dialect.

But if there were problems for the Gendarmerie during the 1790s, the institution also ultimately showed itself to be invaluable in helping to reestablish order and imposing the state’s concept of both law and the nation. The directory launched a fierce policy of military repression to suppress brigandage and disorder. The consulate continued this policy and took all the credit for its broad success. Once a greater degree of order had been established, it has been argued, the consulate and then the empire developed a security state in which the Revolution’s democratic aspirations gave way to a tutelary administration and judicial apparatus that employed surveillance and regulatory control to maintain order (Brown 1997). The Gendarmerie played a key role in both the initial military repression and then in the new surveillance system, for which it also provided a small-scale coercive capability should the need arise.

As first consul, Citizen-General Bonaparte had his own ideas about the structure and deployment of the Gendarmerie. He favored fewer mounted gendarmes and more men on foot, particularly where the geography was unsuitable for horses. But he also knew how to choose capable subordinates, and in the case of the Gendarmerie, he chose tough, no-nonsense, plain-speaking army veterans. General Louis Wirion had experience of organizing the Gendarmerie in the 13 new de´partements of the northeast that had previously formed the Austrian Netherlands. Wirion was charged with reorganizing the force in the counterrevolutionary west. General Etienne Radet had commanded the 24th Gendarmerie Division that covered four of the most turbulent de´partements of the south. He was beginning to get a grip on the region when Bonaparte first met him on his return from the disastrous Egyptian campaign. As first consul Bonaparte summoned Radet to Paris to draw up plans for reorganizing the Gendarmerie as a whole.

Wirion stressed the image of the ideal gendarme as a courageous army veteran who was honest, moral, sober, and literate. He was to be a man that the local community looked up to and trusted; he was to know every part of his district intimately. Radet’s ideas were formulated in an organizational order issued at the end of January 1801. This enlarged the total corps to 16,500 men. There were to be 2,500 brigades of six men deployed in the provincial de´partements; twothirds of these were to be mounted. There were also to be four elite companies, two mounted two on foot, that were to be deployed to protect the first consul (and later the emperor) and his palaces. The officers were all to receive their commissions from the head of state; the other ranks were to be vetted by a de´partemental committee composed of the prefect and two officers from the force. Finally there was to be a headquarter staff under a general appointed as the Premier Inspecteur Ge´ ne´ral de la Gendarmerie. Radet, by his own account, turned down the latter appointment and it went to General (later Marshal) Moncey. Wirion went off to establish the Gendarmerie in newly conquered Piedmont; Radet undertook similar tasks across the new French Empire. His toughness and aggression offended many civilian officials; unsurprisingly, when Napoleon needed a man to arrest the Pope in 1809, it was Radet who volunteered.

Moncey was a rather more refined individual than Wirion and Radet, but he could be prickly. Throughout his tenure as inspector general, he remained determined to maintain the Gendarmerie’s separation from other police institutions within Napoleon’s France. But this, according to Joseph Fouche´ who served as minister of police for much of the period of the empire, suited Napoleon’s intention to pursue a policy of divide and rule when it came to the police. There was a separate military police under General Duroc in his capacity as grand master of the palace. The Prefect of Police had responsibility for policing in Paris and reported to the minister of police, while civilian police, principally the commissaires, in the provinces also linked with the minister as well as with his fellows in the interior and justice. Moncey kept his command at a distance from the Ministry of Police; at the same time, he and Fouche´ confronted each other over a range of issues setting the tone for the “war of the polices” that continued in France for the next two centuries (Lignereux 2003).

The force that developed during the Revolutionary and Napoleonic period set the tone for the future in other ways. It remained proud of its standing as a military body. While it was sometimes useful to send individuals or small groups in civilian clothes to reconnoiter a town or village before a move to search out and apprehend deserters, it was formally stated in the various decrees regulating the institution that gendarmes always acted in uniform. Indeed, this became a matter of pride with many, and in 1857, Captain Fre´de´ric de Bouyn requested an audience with Napoleon III concerned that the corps was being required to act in secretive ways and to investigate people’s politics. Nothing in the force’s behavior, he explained, “should excite suspicion, nothing should imply that its duties are mysterious and shadowy” (quoted in Emsley 1999, p. 127). The captain’s open expression of his concerns stalled his career; others, however, who were less reticent in making political efforts on behalf of the government, tended to prosper.

The legacy of the Revolution and the Napoleonic adventure made it difficult for a state agency like the Gendarmerie to stand aloof from the politics of nineteenth-century France. Yet many gendarmes seem to have tried to be as honest, moral, and sober as Wirion, and the regulations insisted. Many individual brigades worked hard on behalf of the communities to which they were posted; they tracked down offenders, provided assistance in time of natural disaster, and so forth. But, in addition to the occasional demands for overt political action, they also had one other duty that could easily bring them into conflict with those communities; it fell to the gendarmes to ensure that when the demand was made, conscripts were collected and brought to the appropriate muster points. It also fell to the gendarmes to go in pursuit of refractory conscripts and deserters. Increasingly the Gendarmerie, together with other parts of Napoleon’s bureaucratic state, wore down the opposition, but the enormous demand for men in 1813 sparked a new, furious wave of violence and disorder invariably directed at the gendarmes.

Continuity, Change, And Recurrent Issues In The Nineteenth Century

The French Revolution had proclaimed the Rights of Man and, of course, equality along with liberty and fraternity. Gendarmes were supposed to ensure a citizen’s rights and to enforce the law equally among citizens, but the political turbulence that accompanied the various stages of the Revolution and the memory of Napoleon’s empire that followed its fall left a legacy in which the different varieties of police in France were often seen as tied to, or acting at, the behest of those in power. At different stages of the Revolution, a few gendarmes were accused of disaffection and purged. When the Bourbons were restored for the second time, both Moncey and Radet faced courts-martial. De´partemental committees, similar to those of the Revolution, were revived by the Bourbons to vet new recruits, and with varying degrees of determination, they also purged those who had shown, or continued to show, zeal for “the usurper.” Yet in the various political upheavals of the restoration and the July Monarchy, while the de´partemental companies sent regular reports to Paris about the economy and political attitudes, most of the brigades appear to have aimed to fulfill their basic duties of maintaining order and protecting their local communities.

The elite Gendarmerie companies in the capital, whose functions mainly involved public order and ceremonies, earned the hostility of the Parisians for aiding Charles X’s attempted coup in the July days of 1830. A Gendarmerie mobile was established in the wake of the 1830 Revolution, revived in 1848 and revived again under Napoleon III. But most of the small provincial brigades, whose daily patrols focussed on supervising and maintaining local tranquility, enforcing regulations and dealing with crime, sat tight during the revolutions and watched events.

As president of the Second Republic, Louis Napoleon feted the institution, but most provincial brigades saw discretion as the better part of valor and avoided confrontations with the peasant columns and the democratic-socialists who resisted his coup in 1851. Nevertheless, when the president became the Emperor Napoleon III, he maintained a close relationship with the Gendarmerie until the mid-1850s when, after the Imperial Decree reorganizing the force and outlining the essence of its service as a “continual and repressive surveillance” particularly in the countryside and on main roads, his interests moved more to reforming the police. The close relationship and the concept of “repressive surveillance” led to the concerns expressed by de Bouyn that the brigades were expected to comment on people’s politics and to take an active role in elections.

Economic, political, and social life changed significantly in the French provinces during the nineteenth century, and the Gendarmerie was required to keep up both with the changes and with traditional sensibilities. The building of railways and movements of workers from different regions and countries led to increases in the workloads of some brigades and, occasionally, a decrease for others. Gendarmes provided coercive support for bailiffs in the eviction of workers from company housing or for local officials wanting to deal with unruly bars. At other times, however, they aided members of the working class and the poor. And this did not just mean acting in time of natural disaster or pursuing those responsible for criminal acts against poor people; a few gendarmes were known to give to charity the occasional monetary reward they had received, while others organized subscriptions to assist beggars. But an officious, self-important brigade commander who sought rigorously to enforce unpopular legislation especially, for example, on poaching or cabarets could provoke serious local hostility. The brigade commander at Be´darieux (He´rault) was one such, and his small barracks suffered the most violent and sustained attack following Louis Napoleon’s coup leaving the brigadier, two gendarmes, and a gendarme’s wife dead. Another of the Be´darieux brigade, however, was saved when a cafe´ proprietor intervened on his behalf; the gendarme had earlier broken regulations so as to permit the proprietor to attend a fellow radical’s funeral. An informative statistical analysis of the attacks on gendarmes between 1800 and 1859 suggests a significant decline across the period and a corresponding growth in the legitimacy of the institution among the people in rural communities (Lignereux 2008).

The propertied classes generally showed approval of the force. Official literature painted the gendarme as a man cast in a heroic mold, honest, modest, and courageous. Descriptions of the small barracks sometimes suggested almost a monastic community, although any visit to a small barracks probably would soon have dispelled such a notion. The men, their wives and children, as well as their horses were all jammed in close proximity to each other. Moreover, while in some respects, his legitimacy grew among the plebeian classes; in various forms of popular culture, the gendarme was commonly portrayed as officious, stupid, and a figure of fun. In popular puppet plays, he might appear as an honest upholder of the law, but when up against shrewd working-class heroes like the Lyon weaver Guignol, he always came off second best. Perhaps the best known of the comic manifestations, however, are Gendarme Pandore and Brigadier Dussutour. Pandore, who first appeared in Gustav Nadaud’s popular song written (and promptly banned) at the beginning of the Second Empire, feared God, was virile, but not very bright, and never questioned his superiors: “Brigadier, vous-avez raison!” Dussutour was the eponymous “Good Gendarme” of Le´on Bloy’s short story who confronts a division of invading Prussians in 1871 with “I demand to see your papers” (see various articles in Luc 2003).

The close links that the Gendarmerie had enjoyed with Napoleon III meant that at the beginning of the Third Republic, the institution was regarded with suspicion by Republicans and the Left. There was general agreement that it should not have a political role and that it should stick to pursuing criminal offenders, maintaining order and enforcing various regulations. The Gendarmerie mobile was disbanded in 1885, and some advocated replacing the entire force with a de´partemental police while others urged that it be demilitarized. Such major changes were largely prevented because of the inability of the force’s detractors to secure a majority among legislators for any one of their proposals during the early years of the new republic. At the same time, the gendarmes themselves could scarcely be faulted for the ways in which they accepted the role of defenders of the republic and enforced measures, such as the anticlerical laws, that critics of the regime opposed.

The Spread Of The Model

In May 1806 Napoleon told his brother Joseph, who he had recently installed as King of Naples, that the Gendarmerie provided “the most efficient way to maintain the tranquillity of a country … it provides a surveillance half civil, half military spread across the whole territory together with the most precise information” (quoted in Emsley 1999, p. 56). As a part of Napoleon’s empire, as a satellite state or as an ally, many regions of Europe had experience of the Gendarmerie model in the first decade or so of the nineteenth century. Even after Napoleon’s fall, many of the rulers of these territories tended to agree with the emperor. Radet and Wirion had set up Gendarmeries in various parts of Italy. Under the restored Savoyard Monarchy, the restructured Piedmontese Gendarmerie, called the Carabinieri Reale, was to play a significant military role in the unification of Italy absorbing some of the other Italian Gendarmeries as it did so. Various German states had created Gendarmeries during the Napoleonic ascendancy and continued to deploy them thereafter. In Wȕrttemberg, however, the German name of Landja€ger was preferred, and in the Netherlands the former French name of Marechaussee was employed.

Even Napoleon’s most consistent enemies created Gendarmeries as and when they thought it prudent. The Irish Constabulary emerged out of a series of initiatives taken by British administrators in Ireland and formalized by an Act of Parliament in 1822. The word “constabulary” was employed at least in part because of concerns about the French word Gendarmerie, but unlike its counterparts, the force was never linked to the Ministry of War (the War Office in British parlance). The Irish (from 1867 Royal Irish) Constabulary was seen by many administrators in the British Empire as a model for the kind of police that they required outside of the major centers of population in the colonies, and they often requested Royal Irish Constabulary officers and men to help create a new force. In Quebec what was originally the North West Mounted Police, and subsequently the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, is still known as La Gendarmerie Royale du Canada.

The Gendarmerie of Imperial Russia followed the track of its French counterpart beginning as a military unit established to police the Russian army of occupation in France following Napoleon’s overthrow. It then acquired authority over the civilian population of Russia, but throughout the nineteenth century, it maintained a close link with the third section of the Tsar’s Private Imperial Chancellery, the department responsible for political policing. Political turbulence in Spain during the 1830s led to the creation of the Guardia Civil in 1843, but in spite of the name, the force was militarized, under the direction of the minister of war and housed in small barracks virtually from its creation. In the Habsburg Empire, it was the Galician revolt of 1846 and the subsequent revolution of 1848 that convinced the government of the need for a Gendarmerie. States, like Greece and Romania, that emerged from the Ottoman withdrawal from Europe also created Gendarmeries as the best means of cementing the authority of the new rulers across their territories.

In addition to dealing with various forms of criminal activity, most gendarmes across continental Europe maintained a surveillance of the communities in which they served and collected information for the central government about the local economy, political attitudes, and any other apparently significant developments or events. They provided a first line of defense against popular disorder, and perhaps most significantly, they played a role in the evolving relationship between the nineteenth-century bureaucratic state and its people. Gendarmes in their barracks flying the national or imperial flag, celebrating national or imperial anniversaries and festivities, were the living manifestation of the state or empire for rural communities who rarely looked far beyond their immediate district. Across the continent they commonly assumed the same kind of attributes as those in France; they were portrayed in the official literature and their own corps literature as heroic, honest defenders of the law. The Carabinieri recruit, for example, was told how he was entering a family of men who depended on each other and who dedicated their lives to the good of others (Grossadi 1879). Gendarmes protected rural communities from bandits, brigands, and wild beasts; they pursued offenders and brought them to justice; they were the first to help communities in times of natural disaster. But there was an obverse side to these roles. If the state’s gendarmes assisted the population, the population had to recognize its obligations to the state, and the gendarmes were also there to ensure that taxes were paid and that young men turned up as and when required for military service. Moreover, in the event of any form of labor or political unrest, the gendarmes were usually the first force available for the authorities to deploy against any demonstrators.

The First Half Of The Twentieth Century

Although the French Gendarmerie carried out the orders of the Third Republic (1870–1940) loyally, in the 20 years or so before the First World War, it was often criticized as being inadequate for its tasks. The brigade structure meant that small disorders could be handled, but there was no Gendarmerie mobile available for dealing with significant industrial unrest and political demonstrations. There were a succession of discussions and proposals for reform put before the legislature, but they all foundered. The brigades, many of whom exchanged their horses for bicycles, were too isolated to deal with itinerant offenders or mechanized criminals such as the anarchist bande a` Bonnot. The institution also suffered a major blow to its reputation during the First World War: for the first time since its creation it provided no front-line combat unit. Gendarmes were, however, deployed immediately behind the front line to enforce discipline and apprehend deserters. The poilus (soldiers) joked cynically about gendarmes, who were often noted for their heavy drinking, suppressing drunkenness among the front-line soldiers. They also scoffed that the front line ended where you met the first gendarme.

During the interwar period, the Gendarmerie like the rest of the French police, sought to modernize its fight against crime by developing its use of motor vehicles and telecommunications. Young officers appear also to have been keen to develop the corps role in criminal investigation (Haberbusch 2012). In addition to their traditional role in policing the countryside, and again like the civilian police, the Gendarmerie became increasingly preoccupied with the threat of communist subversion. A Gendarmerie mobile was reestablished in 1921 to deal with unrest, particularly in labor disputes. The right-leaning ministry that took the step had no desire to see the victorious army risking its reputation in such situations. But just over a decade later, the parliamentary committee appointed to investigate the Paris riots of 1934 concluded that at least on that occasion the Gendarmerie mobile was poorly led, inappropriately equipped, and lacking in useful intelligence. Yet in spite of the criticisms and the humiliation of its wartime involvement, the Gendarmerie remained loyal to the republic.

At the end of the First World War, the fear of communism and Revolution led to the creation of militarized police in both Germany and the Netherlands. During the summer of 1919 first in Prussia and then in other La€nder, the nervous authorities set up “Security Police,” Sicherheitspolizei (or Sipo). These heavily armed police were viewed with suspicion by many in the SPD and by trade unionists. They were also suspected by the victorious allies as a means to circumvent the restrictions on the size of the German army. The Sipo did not outlive 1920; the Weimar Republic reverted to the more traditional policing structures, and the policing of rural areas by men designated as gendarmes continued through the Nazi period even as different police institutions were unified into the German Order Police (Ordnungspolizei). In the Netherlands rioting in Amsterdam in June 1919 led to the formation of the Korps Politietroepen which was incorporated into the army in 1922 and functioned alongside the Marechaussee and the Rijksveldwacht (state police) until the Second World War.

Elsewhere during the interwar years, other Gendarmeries found their loyalties tested by the turbulent politics of the period. In Italy the Carabinieri’s boasted first loyalty to the king and to Italy enabled it to ride out some of the problems following the Fascist takeover. However, it is at least arguable that a majority in the Carabinieri were more in sympathy with the radical Right than with the political Left and the corruption and clientelism of the Liberals. In Spain the Guardia Civil was torn over the formation of the Second Republic. Many in the guard saw their duty as maintaining order in Spain and judged a government on its ability to ensure that they were able to carry out this duty. When the Civil War broke out, a significant percentage of the guards went over to Franco, seeing him as a better hope for order in their beloved homeland – and they went over to Franco even if this meant shooting those among their officers who remained loyal to the republic.

The old rivalries between the Gendarmeries, primarily responsible to ministries of war, and the civilian police, responsible to the ministries of justice and the interior, also continued. Events in the Netherlands’ municipality of Oss during the 1930s provide a vivid example. The Koninklijke Marechaussee fought a successful campaign against serious crime in the district which prompted decorations from the queen for the commander and one of his staff but jealousy among the Rijksveldwacht and the municipal police. Subsequently, following a largely fruitless investigation of local municipal and religious authorities and the arrest of a factory owner and an insurance broker, the minister of justice prohibited further investigations and arranged to have the full brigade of the Marechaussee transferred elsewhere. Eventually a parliamentary enquiry was called to settle the matter which had turned into bickering between the ministers of justice and the interior as well as the minister of war and the Marechaussee. The civilian ministries’ dreams of creating a single, unified policing structure had to be shelved, and when reform came, it was imposed by the German occupiers who set out to amalgamate the Rijksveldwacht with the Koninklijke Marechaussee in March 1941. The aim was to create an institution modeled on the SS and loyal to the new German authorities.

The Second World War brought additional pressures. In France, determined to avoid the criticisms of its role in the previous war, the Gendarmerie deployed a combat unit. The combat unit drew on the younger, more energetic, and fitter gendarmes, and while experienced heads are important to policing, the drain on the provincial brigades appears to have had a negative effect. The recruits who came forward to fill the gaps during the German occupation were often well qualified, but many were using the institution as a way of avoiding Service de travail obligatoire in Germany and had no serious commitment to the job. In Vichy the Gendarmerie was purged of those elements that the government considered undesirable and a threat to France such as Jews and Freemasons. In both Vichy and the occupied zone, gendarmes were involved in enforcing the racial and political policies of the conqueror. In the early years of the occupation and Vichy, very few joined the resistance, but the Germans appear to have had suspicions about the Gendarmerie and occasionally picked on both officers and men, and by early 1944, many gendarmes appear to have been paying lip service to orders emanating from the occupying power. In France, Belgium, and the Netherlands, the different Gendarmeries, like other police institutions, faced issues of where their duty lay. The problem was especially acute in Belgium and the Netherlands where the vestiges of prewar governments had gone into exile in Britain. At the close of the war in all three countries, these became questions of the legitimacy for the different forces as members of the resistance and others sought revenge, and scapegoats and gendarmes were challenged and investigated as to whether they had put the emphasis on professional and patriotic duty (Campion 2011). The same problem arose in Greece where, in the wake of the German defeat, the country descended into civil war.

In Italy, loyalty to the king and to the concept of Italia enabled the Carabinieri to shift with wartime politics. When the war began, they loyally served the Fascist state; when Mussolini was overthrown, they were able to collaborate with the allies fighting their way up the peninsula. Carabinieri worked alongside allied military police in attempts to suppress the rampant black market and brigandage that appeared, especially in the south. In those areas that were occupied by the Germans, they collaborated but often in unique ways. The most notable and, as far as the Carabinieri itself is concerned, the most heroic example is the self-sacrifice of vicebrigadiere Salvo d’Acquisto who, in September 1943, voluntarily went before a German firing squad in order to save 22 innocent hostages. His last words, allegedly, were Viva Italia. But the allies were conscious of the Carabinieri’s involvement with the Fascist state, and a mission, led by a senior English police officer and staffed by men from other British forces, set out to take the Fascist element out of all Italian police institutions. Similar British police missions were deployed in Austria and Germany; in the former the relaxed, some might say idle, attitude of the English commander ensured that Austrian Gendarmerie maintained the traditional characteristics of such a body. Paradoxically in the west of Germany, while the victorious allies were determined to denazify and demilitarize the police, the specifically military police of the Third Reich, the Feldgendarmerie, was the last military unit to be disbanded as its experience and discipline was considered too important in the struggle against the postwar crime wave. In postwar Greece, torn by civil war, another British police mission led by a former head of the Royal Ulster Constabulary (which had replaced, but closely resembled, the Gendarmerie-style RIC on the partition of Ireland) was keen to see the Greek Gendarmerie trained first and foremost as ordinary police and subject to civilian authority. Even so, the mission commander also recognized the virtue in a paramilitary Gendarmerie for the warring countryside.

To The Twenty-First Century

The rivalry and occasional friction between civilian police and Gendarmeries continued in the aftermath of the Second World War. Sometimes it sprang from the Gendarmeries’ proud military tradition. In France, for example, during the last two decades of the century, morale in both the police and the Gendarmerie was periodically undermined by a variety of issues some of which resulted from shifting pressures in the job, such as the emergence of international terrorism and who should take precedence in handling it. There was also cultural change; more working wives and changes in the civilian working world challenged some of the traditional understanding of the gendarme’s military commitment and subservience to old-style military discipline. The government could aggravate such concerns by suggesting a redefinition of ranks which brought a degree of unanimity between Gendarmerie and police but which also highlighted some better emoluments within the Gendarmerie as well as discrepancies between the responsibilities of different ranks in the different institutions. President Mitterand’s creation of the Groupe d’intervention de la Gendarmerie nationale (GIGN) for his personal protection in the Elyse´e Palace with its additional responsibilities for anti-terrorism aggravated police-Gendarmerie relations, while the use of GIGN officers for investigating the president’s opponents caused outrage beyond the ranks of the police and tarnished the Gendarmerie’s image.

Elsewhere political involvement by senior gendarmes did their institutions little credit. Senior figures in the Carabinieri were suspected of taking their anti-communism further than was proper in a democracy. It was the refusal of members of the corps to leave their barracks that stifled an attempted coup led by a Carabinieri general in 1964. The Greek Gendarmerie was closely tied with the Colonels’ junta that seized power in 1967. In the aftermath of the Colonels’ fall, the Gendarmerie was united with the town police, yet the new police, while more closely tied to the civilian state, remains a military organization. Following the death of Franco, the Guardia Civil remained suspect in the eyes of many on the Left and the attempted coup of February 1981 in which a lieutenant colonel of the Guardia and his men seized the lower chamber of the Cortes confirmed such suspicions. The Guardia Civil survived the failed coup but came increasingly to resemble a civilian police, though it was not until 2009 that the traditional bicorn hat was replaced (except for ceremonial duties) with a more conventional baseball cap.

As the European Gendarmeries became more like civilian police institutions with, for example, the Belgian Gendarmerie’s amalgamation with the country’s civil police in 2000 and the bringing together of the Gendarmerie nationale and the Police nationale under the French Ministry of the Interior in 2009, so a new opportunity opened up for these corps in the wider world. It was argued that soldiers and marines lacked the necessary skills for establishing and maintaining basic law and order in failed states or states emerging from civil war or international conflict (Perito 2004). Police missions to such states as Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, and Afghanistan were commonly spearheaded by gendarmes. Even British Police missions under the auspices of the UK’s International Police Assistance Board contained a disproportionate number of men from the old Royal Ulster Constabulary or its more civilian successor force (the Police Service Northern Ireland, PSNI) – but this successor force was itself well versed in crowd control and soothing the passions of rival communities (Sinclair 2012).

Globalization, concerns about organized crime on an international level, and the increase in demands for police missions like those to the new states emerging from former Yugoslavia combined to foster the creation of the European Gendarmerie (EGF) in 2006. The EGF, formalized by the Treaty of Velsen in October 2007, brought together gendarmes from corps of five of the EU’s member states: France, Italy, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Spain. When Romania joined the EU, its Gendarmerie also became a member, while those of Poland and Lithuania were designated as partners. The intention was to have a force of up to 800 gendarmes available for deployment within 30 days of a request for assistance. The EGF was involved in NATO police missions, notably in Afghanistan, and it provided a small force to advise on security in Haiti following the earthquake of 2010. But the new institution raised fears, particularly about accountability, and there were even suspicions that EGF officers had been deployed to Greece during the disorders engendered by the crisis over Greek debt (see, e.g.,


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